5 tips for building a great company culture

A culture is “ a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business).”   Merriam-Webster, n.d.

The age of social media and mobile connectivity provides us with a sense of transparency we never had before. Businesses are no longer seen as big corporate logos, but are instead regarded as the sum of the employees who convey a cultural belief.  A company’s values are often touted in a mission statement and the company itself takes on an approachable persona.  We can interact with different organizations just as we interact with our colleagues- we can see them on Linkedin, watch their youtube videos, follow their tweets and facebook pages – while getting to learn their set of values and culture.

Because of the increased transparency in today’s world, more product companies look into transforming their culture to deliver a promise to their customers. I recently attended a meetup about building a UX culture at Google Campus, Tel Aviv. The meetup was hosted by the UX salon and included a fascinating lecture by Iris shoor , CEO at Oribi, who shared some insights for building a UX centric culture. Shoor started the lecture by highlighting the importance of having a good culture in a company, and that company culture should never be taken for granted.  Company culture requires a synthesis of commitment from management, together with an investment of specific resources. In the company I work for, Clarizen, our CEO relates to the company’s culture as the company’s IP (Intellectual Property) –  the culture is what differentiates us from other businesses in the market.

A good company culture isn’t just about perks such as free snacks, or a pool table in the office. Culture is about the values on which the company is based. The values may include work-life balance, healthy living, curiosity, self challenges, volunteering, etc. One of the companies that pioneered the idea of a transparent culture is Netflix, which shared their executive management culture presentation on slideshare back in 2009. In the presentation, you can learn about who Netflix are, what they do and how they make decisions. Today many new startups start building the company by defining their values, and what kind of company they want to build by defining who they are..

Another good example for a company culture is Zappos.com – An online shoe retailer that was acquired by Amazon. Zappos values are based on a strong belief in happiness as can be learned from one of their core values “Create Fun and A Little Weirdness” – A value that I closely identify with. If you enter Zappos offices in Las Vegas, you will immediately notice their fun open space with colorful cubicles. Zappos run a “pimp your cubicle” competition every once in awhile, an event that leads to a fresh bizarre looking office space that represents the people of the company.

The third example Shoor gave was of  buffer – a Saas social media engagement tool. Buffer CEO Joel Gascoigne is a strong advocate of transparency and in Buffer’s blog anyone can find information about the company in real time, including a live investors update with full disclosure of the company’ financials:  run rate, revenue, salaries and etc.

For anyone looking to build a great culture in your startup/company, here are 5 tips that can help you begin:

1. Create an identity

Start asking yourself what kind of identify your company has.  A common branding tip for building a brand is to ask  “If your company was an animal what animal would it be ?  In the case of Takipi, one of Iris Shoor previous companies, the answer was a Monster!  Takipi is a company which helps to detect and solve technical bugs on software. In Takipi, each monster represents a type of software bug and every new employee receives a unique monster sweatshirt when joining the company, which represents their favorite bug. The employees who joined the company shared a picture of their new Monster sweatshirt and together with Monsters in the background. This viral campaign received a lot of attention and helped the startup in recruiting new employees.

2. Make meetings fun

All-company meetings are meant to help the employees sync on important topics, but in many cases the atmosphere in an all company gathering does not allow people to open up completely. When there is a need to open up and work on relationships or idea flow, going offsite could be a great idea.  Shoor gave an example of an event her startup attended that brought them all together. The event was held in the the kinneret, and helped build relationships in the company, employees got closer and had great experiences for life. Since it is not possible to go off site every week, try and make your company meetings a bit different. Instead of having an artificial conversation about how everybody feels ,try and focus on having fun. In Takipi, company meetings have included cupcake workshops, a weird picture tournament across Tel Aviv and other fun yet strange activities.

3. Celebrate , often

Managers tend to wait for once a quarter to celebrate. Shoor urges to celebrate more. For instance it could be when somebody was able to fix a bug or find a sneaky bug that may have otherwise gone under the radar. Celebration does not have to be a grandiose event, it could be a whiskey shot, a weird balloon, or a small plant for the cubicle.  The most important element of it all, is that the moment and the person feels special and appreciated.

4. Embrace transparency

Today there are many ways to communicate internally within a the company without creating silos. Productivity tools and social collaboration tools help empower employees from the bottom up, making the business transparent. Employees feel a stronger connection to the business once they understand why decisions are made and how the decision making process works.  Transparency means also showing the bad things and not only the good things.  For example, in Oribi, Shoor’s current company, they have an online dashboard that shows how company is doing in comparison to its targets. The dashboard is open to all employees, and in tough weeks people understand they need to invest more and show solidarity with the company.

5. Stay creative

Creativity is the key ingredient  to innovation. And creativity sparks when there is trust among the team. To enjoy creativity, we sometimes need to stop doing our to-do tasks and start from scratch – tabula rasa.

A nice example for sparking creativity was given by Guy Isacar, a UX/UI Designer in Takipi. Isacar says that designers know the product from inside out. Sometimes work becomes very repetitive, since designers and product managers can go back and forth about a specific screen for many times. A good tip for staying creative is to have a creative Thursday(Or Friday – depends on your last of the week). Every Thursday, just after lunch take 2 hours free fun time to go wild.

  1. You can select feature that has not changed in a while
  2. Find good references
  3. work on a BLANK canvas
  4. Decide which parts can be used

Later on, some of the creative Thursday mockups actually became features in the product although they were not originally thought of by the product team.  While Iscar gave an example from the world of a Designer, I think the creative Thursday concept can apply to developers, product managers and almost any other role I can think of.

 

A great culture does not have to be a culture that comes from the HR department of an organization. Culture can start from bottom-up and each person can have their own great culture. You can write down your goals of becoming an amazing full stack coder or flat design expert designer and tie the everyday to do tasks to those long term goals. A great culture starts with great people. Be great.

 

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